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pupil subcultures

Pupil subcultures are groups of students who share some values, norms and behaviour, which give them a sense of identify, and provide them with status through peer-group affirmation.

Pupil subcultures take a variety of forms, ranging from pro-school to anti-school subcultures, with a variety of other responses in-between.

Pupil subcultures are often based on social class, gender and ethnicity, and much research on this topic has focused on the educational significance of working-class subcultures, male subcultures and ethnic minority subcultures especially.

There is significant theoretical debate concerning the formation of pupil subcultures (i.e. the question of where they come from). Some commentators (mainly from the AQA) seem to think that pupil subcultures are a ‘response’ to in-school processes such as teacher labelling, however, some sociologists, such as Tony Sewell, argue that it’s more complex than this because the kind of students who join anti-school subcultures get their anti-school attitude from outside of school, so the subculture cannot simply be a response to processes within school.

Differentiation and Polarization

Lacey’s (1970) study of a middle class grammar school found that there were two related processes at work in schools – differentiation and polarization. Most schools generally placed a high value on things such as hard work, good behaviour and exam success, and teacher judge students and rank and categorise them into different groups – streams or sets – according to such criteria. This is what Lacey called differentiation.

One of the consequences of differentiation through streaming, setting and labelling is polarization. This refers to the way students become divided into two opposing groups, or ‘poles’: those in the top streams who achieve highly, who more or less conform, and therefore achieve high status in the terms of the values and aims of the school, and those in the bottoms sets who are labelled as failures and therefor deprived of status.

Varies studies, such as that by Hargreaves (1967, 1976), Ball (1981) and Abraham (1989), have found that teachers’ perception of students’ academic ability and the process of differentiation and polarization influenced how students behaved, and led to the formation of pro- and anti-school subcultures.

The Pro-School Subculture

Pro-school subcultures are those which accept the values and ethos of the school and willingly conform to its rules. They tend to be those students in higher sets who aspire to high academic achievement and are prepared to work hard, and work ‘with the teachers’ to achieve these goals.

Pro-school subcultures are typically comprised of children from middle class backgrounds, although not in all cases: Mac An Ghaill’s (1994) found examples of two different types of pro-school subculture in his participant observation study:

The academic achievers who were mostly from skilled manual working-class backgrounds and sought to achieve academic success by focusing on traditional academic subjects such as English, maths and the sciences.

The New Enterprisers – who were typically from working class backgrounds and rejected the traditional academic curriculum, which they saw as a waste of time, but were motivated to study subjects such as business and computing and were able to achieve upward mobility by exploiting school-industry links to their advantage.

The anti-school subculture

The anti-school subculture, (sometimes called the counter school culture), consist of groups of students who rebel against the school for various reasons, and develop and alternative set of delinquent values, attitudes and behaviours in opposition to the academic aims, ethos and rules of a school.

In the anti-school subculture, truancy, playing up to teachers, messing about, breaking the rules, avoiding doing school work and generally disrupting the smooth running of the school day become a way of getting back at the system and gaining status among peers.

Counter-school cultures are cultures of resistance, or anti-learning cultures, and participation in can be a means of gaining status among one’s peers – the more deviant an act, the more status you gain.

The classic study of the counter-school culture is Paul Willis’ 1977 study ‘Learning to Labour’ in which he observed 12 working class lads who saw school and academic learning as pointless to their future lives as factory workers. They therefor resented school, and spent their time messing around and resisting any attempt to learn anything. Status was earned within the group by disrupting lessons and doing as little work as possible.

The ‘lads’ in Willis’ study were very much a traditional, working-class macho subculture, and they defined the typically middle class students who obeyed the school rules as ‘earoles’ because they were always listening to the teacher, they also saw these students as a bit cissy, in contrast to their identification with ‘proper’ masculine working class manual-labour.

Between Pro and Anti-School Subcultures: A Range of Responses

Peter Woods (1979) suggested that dividing pupil subcultures into simply two poles: pro- and anti-school was too simplistic. Woods also suggested that students don’t easily split into subcultures, instead he suggested that there is a wide variety of responses to school, and pupils can switch between different adaptations as they progress through their school careers:

Peter Woods: Eight ways of adapting to school:

  • Ingratiation – Pupils who are eager to please teachers and have very favourable attitudes towards school. Conformist pro-school.
  • Compliance – Pupils who accept school rules and discipline, and see school as a useful way to gain qualifications, but who don’t have a wholly positive or negative attitude towards school. This is typical of first year students.
  • Opportunism – Pupils who fluctuate between seeking approval of teachers and form their peer groups.
  • Ritualism – Pupils who go through the motions of attending school but withiout great engagement or enthusiasm.
  • Retreatism – Pupils who are indifferent to school values and exam success- messing about in class and daydreaming are common, but such students do not want to challenge the authority of the school.
  • Colonization – Pupils who try to get away with as much as possible. Such students may express hostility to the school but will still try to avoid getting into trouble. More common in the later years of schooling.
  • Intransigence – troublemakers who are indifferent to school and who aren’t that bothered about conformity.
  • Rebellion – the goals of schools are rejected and pupils devote their efforts to achieving deviant goals.

Sources

Brown: Sociology for AS

Chapman et al: Sociology AQA Year 1 and AS Student Book

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In-School Processes in Education: Knowledge Check List

Main Sub Topics

The Interactionist Perspective – Introduces the topic area, make sure you can explain the difference between Interactionism and Structural Theories

School Ethos and The Hidden Curriculum

  • The School Ethos
  • The Hidden Curriculum

Teacher Stereotyping and the halo effect

  • The ideal pupil
  • Labelling and the Self Fulfilling Prophecy

Banding, streaming and setting

  • Definitions of banding/ streaming setting
  • Summaries of evidence on the effects of banding etc
  • Unequal access to classroom knowledge

Educational triage

  • Gilborn and Youdell’s work focusing on the significance of league tables and ‘writing off students who have no chance of passing

Student responses to the experience of schooling: school subcultures

  • Differentiation and Polarisation
  • Pro-School subcultures
  • Anti-school (or counter-school) subcultures =
  • Between pro and anti-school subcultures: a range of responses

Evaluations of in-school processes

  • Determinism (labelling)
  • Evidence based on micro processes (generaliseablity?)
  • Out of school more important (90% of the difference)

 

Selected concepts and research studies you need to know
·         Labelling theory and the self-fulfilling prophecy

·         Banding and Streaming

·         Subcultures

·         The Hidden Curriculum

·         School Ethos

·         Educational Triage

·         Deterministic

·         Gilborn and Youdell

·         However Becker

·         Stephen Ball

·         Rosenthal and Jacobson

·         Paul Willis

Selected short answer questions
Outline three ways in which the curriculum might be ethnocentric (6)

Outline two criticisms of labelling theory (4)

Using material from item A, analyse two ways in which the hidden curriculum may disadvantage working class students (10)

Selected Essay Questions

Evaluate the view that it is mainly in-school processes which explain differential education achievement across different groups in society (30)

Research Studies on In-School Processes

You are expected to be able to cite named research when looking at ‘in school processes’ in an essay – below are some studies we’ve looked at already, you should know these….

Research on Teacher Labelling and pupil responses

 

1.    Howard Becker – Labelling and the Ideal Pupil

2.    Rosenthal and Jacobsen – The Self Fulfilling Prophecy (p104)

3.    David Gilborn and Cecile Wright – Found that teachers had ‘racialised expectations’ (in ethnicity hand-out

4.    Heidi Mirza (p119)  – found that there were’ three types’ of teacher racism…. And that black girls had to adopt particular strategies for dealing with this

5.    Research has also shown that teachers label boys and girls differently…. (in gender hand-out)

6.    NB – Margaret Fuller (p118) – found that not all pupils accept their labels

 

Research on Peer Pressure and Pupil Subcultures

 

7.    Paul Willis – The Counter School Culture

8.    Mac an Ghail – found there were a variety of ‘class based subcultures’… (in class hand-out)

9.    Becky Francis – found that boys were more likely to adopt ‘laddish subcultures’ (in gender hand-out)

10. Louis Archer also found that working class girls’ ‘style subcultures’ can come into conflict with the school….(in gender hand-out)

11. Tony Sewell – notes that although there is a distinct ‘anti-school culture’ amongst some African- Caribbean boys, but there are also a wider variety of African- Caribbean subcultures (p119)

 

 

Research on Banding and Streaming
1.    Stephen Ball’s 1960s work on banding in beachside comprehensive showed that…. (class hand-out

2.    Gilborn and Youdell Found that there is an ‘A-C Economy’…. (ethnicity hand-out)

 

Research on School Ethos and the Hidden Curriculum
1.    Feminists argue that Gender Regimes still exist…(this and below both in gender hand-out

2.    School Ethos can have an effect on how boys express their masculinity – independent schools tend to have fewer problems with laddish subcultures than schools in poorer areas…

3.    Stephen Strand argued that ‘institutional racism’ exists in schools

 

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Assess the claim that ‘ethnic difference in educational achievement are primarily the result of school factors’ (30)

An essay on ethnicity and education written for the A Level Sociology paper 1 exam, AQA focus. 

Assess the claim that ‘ethnic difference in educational achievement are primarily the result of school factors’ (30)

There are significant differences in educational achievement by ethnicity. Around 80% of Chinese children achieve 5 or more GCSE grades at A*- C compared to only 55% of Caribbean and about 15% of Gypsy Roma children. The national average is around 65%.

The idea that in-school processes are the main reason for these differences is associated with Interactionism which focuses on processes such as teacher labelling, Institutional racism and pupil subcultures. I will explore how these in-school factors affect pupils differently while evaluating using cultural deprivation and cultural capital theory.

Two classic studies in Sociology found that teacher labelling based on ethnic stereotypes did occur in British schools 25 years ago.

Cecile Wright (1992) Found that teachers perceived ethnic minority children differently from white children.  Asian children were seen as a problem that could be ignored, receiving the least attention and often being excluded from classroom discussion and rarely asked to answer questions. African Caribbean children were expected to behave badly, were seen as aggressive and disruptive, and were more likely to be disciplined for bad behaviour than children from other backgrounds.

David Gilborn (1990) found that teachers tended to see African-Caribbean children as a threat when no threat was intended and reacted accordingly with measures of control. Despite the fact that teachers rejected racism their ethnocentric perceptions meant that their actions were racist in consequence. African-Caribbean children experienced more conflict in relationships with pupils, were more subjected to the schools detention system.

The main problem with both of these studies are based on small scale samples and they are very dated, and they tell us nothing about whether ethnic stereotyping exists today. If anything, teacher bias is less likely given the greater emphasis put on multi-cultural education and the increased awareness of diversity.

Having said this, the rates of African-Caribbean pupils are still 3-4 times higher than the national average, which could be a result of the biases found by Wright and Gilborn, but given lack of recent research, we simply don’t know whether African-Caribbean children are objectively more deviant, or whether they are just perceived to be so by racist teachers.

A further problem with the above is that if teachers are just ignoring Asian pupils, and letting them get on with it, then they can’t really be having much of an impact on their education – and thus it must be home factors which explain why many Asian (Indian and Chinese) students today do better than the white majority.

A second reason for ethnic differences in achievement may be Institutional Racism which is where discrimination against minority groups is built into the organisation of the school – this can happen in various ways: through the ethnocentric curriculum, through banding and streaming and through the hiring of fewer minority teachers.

The ethnocentric curriculum is one which reflects the culture of one dominant group – for example the white majority culture in Britain. The curriculum can be described as Ethnocentric – for example students have to study British history from the European point of view, use out of date textbooks that racially stereotype and some subjects having a narrow, white British focus.

Banding and Streaming has been found to disadvantage both the working classes and some minority groups. Gilborn and Youdell (2007) point out that Black Caribbean children are overrepresented in the lower sets  and talk of how those in the lower sets get ‘written off’ because they have no hope of achieving A-Cs.

Crozier (2004) examined the experiences of racism among Pakistani and Bangladeshi pupils and found that the experience of racism from both the school system and other pupils led to a feeling of exclusion.  The researchers discovered that Pakistani and Bangladeshi pupils had experienced the following – anxieties about their safety; racist abuse was a lived experience of their schooling; careers advisors at school believed South Asian girls were bound by tradition and it was a waste of time advising them; Not being allowed off during Ramadan; feeling that assemblies were not relevant.

The problem with the idea of the ethnocentric curriculum is that it cannot explain why so many ethnic groups do better than white children. It may be the case the Pakistani and Bangladeshi children feel marginalised by it, but they have caught up with white children in recent years and so achieve well in spite of ethnocentricity in education.

Moreover, schools in recent years have made huge efforts to be more multicultural – with RE and PSHE lessons and event such as ‘black history month’ doing a lot to raise awareness of diversity, so this has changed significantly.

However, some recent statistics do suggest that institutional racism is rife – black applicants are half as likely to be accepted onto teacher training programmes compared to white applicants (around 20% compared to 40% success rate) – the end result of this was that in 2013, in the whole of the UK only three black people were accepted as trainee-history teachers. Professor Heidi Mirza, herself of African Caribbean origin, says there is evidence of discrimination within our education system today.

Another in-school factor is pupil subcultures – as with teacher racism a number of classic studies from 20 years ago have focused mainly on black subcultures:

Tony Sewell (1997) observed that Black Caribbean boys may experience considerable pressure by their peers to adopt the norms of an ‘urban’ or ‘street’ subculture. More importance is given to unruly behaviour with teachers and antagonistic behaviour with other students than to high achievement or effort to succeed, particularly at secondary school. Fordham and Ogbu (1986) further argue that notions of ‘acting White’ or ‘acting Black’ become identified in opposition to one another. Hence because acting White includes doing well at school, acting Black necessarily implies not doing well in school.

Mac an Ghail (1998) looked at three subcultures – the Asian Warriors, the African- Caribbean Rasta Heads and the Black Sisters. He used mainly participant observation both in the school and through befriending the students and socializing with them outside of the school. What he found was that the African Caribbean community experienced the world in very different ways to white people – namely because of institutional racism in the college and he argued that any anti-school attitudes were reactions against this racism.

As with the research on teacher labelling, the research on the relationship between pupil subcultures and educational achievement is somewhat thin today. If anything, today subcultures are probably less important, as there seems to be less resistance to the school today than in previous years.

Most sociologists seem to agree that home background is more important than in-school factors in explaining differences in achievement by ethnicity: As with class and gender, schools only account for s10% of the differences in achievement (according to a recent Analysis podcast), home-factors are much more important. Pupils only spend a minority of their time in-school after all!

Tony Sewell, for example, focuses on the higher rates of single parent households and the influence of gangsta culture on young black boys, which is far more significant than anything which goes on in-school.

Also, where the excellent achievement on Chinese children is concerned, it seems to be the ‘tiger parenting’ style which advantages these pupils compared to others.

Most of the research on in-school factors focuses on African-Caribbean underachievement, which is a narrow focus, there are other differences too – Gypsy Roma for example, and given that the main reason for their underachievement is the low attendance rate, again school is not a significant factor here.

However, in-school factors may play a role in explaining the biggest problem with underachievement today – that of white working class children, who themselves feel excluded from the culture of the school because they feel school does not reflect their culture, but this is more of a matter of social class (and gender) rather than ethnicity.

In conclusion, I would say that in-school factors explain very little of the differences in achievement by ethnicity, most of the difference is accounted for by home factors and schools cannot be expected and should not be expected to close the gap, moreover, I believe that focusing on issues of race within education are a red-herring, the issue of class and differential achievement is far more important, irrespective of ethnic background, and here, as with ethnicity, much of the differences in achievement are down to differences in home background, not differential achievement within schools.

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Crime and Deviance Exam Practice Questions (10 markers)

The ten mark question on crime and deviance in the A Level Sociology Crime and Deviance/ Theory and Methods paper will ask you to analyse two reasons/ ways/. Below are a few exemplars (well, one for now, more to follow!) I knocked up, which should get you 10 marks in the exam… 

My suggested strategy for answering these 10 mark questions is to make two points which are as different from each other as possible and then try to develop each point two to three times. You don’t have to evaluate each point, but it’s good practice to put a brief evaluation at the end, but don’t spend too long on this, focus more on the development (which is basically analysis).

NB – Usually there is an item attached to these questions, but more of those later!

Question: analyse two reasons for the formation of subcultures (10)

Point 1 – Consensus theorist Albert Cohen suggested status frustration was the root cause of subculture formation.

According to Cohen deviant subcultures are a working class problem – working class boys try hard in school, and fail, meaning they fail to gain status (recognition/ respect) – these boys find each other and form a deviant group, whereby they gain status within the group by being deviant – by doing things which are against the rules – for example bunking lessons – and the further you go, the more status you get. 

Another Consensus theory which we could apply here is underclass theory – Charles Murray would argue that lower class boys fail at school because their parents don’t work and fail to socialise them into a good work-ethic, hence offering a deeper ‘structural cause’ of why subcultures are more likely to form among the lower social classes.

Hence applying these two consensus theories together, the process goes something like this – and individual is born into the underclass – they are not socialised into a work ethic – they fail at school – they get frustrated – they find similar working/ underclass boys – they gain status by being deviant.

A Problem with this theory is that it blames the working class for their own failure, Marxism criticises consensus theory because the ‘root cause’ of subcultures is the marginalisation of working class youth due to Capitalism.

Point 2 – Interactionists would point to negative labelling as the root cause of subculture formation

According to Howard Becker, teachers have an image of an ‘ideal pupil’ who is middle class – working class pupils don’t fit this image – they dress differently and have different accents, and so teachers have lower expectations of them – they thus don’t push them as hard as middle class students – over the years this results in a self fulfilling prophecy where working class students are more likely to decide they are failures and thus think that school is not for them – It is this disaffection which results in subculture formation.

David Gilborn further applied this idea to the formation of subcultures among African-Caribbean students – according to Gilborn teachers believed black students to be more disruptive and thus were more likely to pick them up for deviant behaviour in class, while White and Asian students were ignored – this marginalised black students who when on to develop anti-school subcultures as a form of resistance against perceived racism.

In contrast to subcultural theory, in labelling theory it is the authorities who are to blame for the emergence of subcultures, rather than the deviant youths themselves.

A criticism of labelling theory is that it is deterministic – not everyone accepts their labels, so not every negative label leads to a subculture.

This should be sufficient to get you 10/ 10. 

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Left Realist Criminology

As a response to the increasing influence of Right Realism, Left Realism was developed by Jock Young, John Lea and Roger Matthews. Left Realism is related to Marxism and the New Criminology, but tries to focus on finding practical ways of solving crime, as it claims that these two theories are too idealistic and have unrealistic ideas about how to solve crime.

Key ideas:

  • As a criticism of Marxism, Left Realists point out that the victims working class street crime are most likely to be the working class, and it is these types of ‘ordinary crime’ that worry working class people. Criminology should thus focus on dealing with these types of ‘ordinary crime’ rather than focusing on elite crime.

  • The three three major causes of (working class street) crime are relative deprivation, marginalisation and subcultures.

  • Solutions to crime should focus on social and community crime prevention and improving relations between the police and local communities.

Left Realism – Causes of Crime

Young (1997) argues that you have to be tough on crime, but this does not just mean being tough on criminals, it means being tough on trying to change the social factors which have a long term impact on crime rates and ensuring that the criminal justice system promotes social justice.

He argues that since the Second World War, rising living standards and the development of welfare provisions have gone hand in hand with a higher crime rate. Lea and young conclude that they can explain this using the following key concepts; relative deprivation, marginalisation and subculture.

Relative deprivation

Lea and Young argue that crime has its roots in deprivation, but deprivation itself is not directly responsible for crime – for example, living standards have risen since the 1950s, so the level of deprivation has fallen, but the crime rate is much higher today than it was in the 1950s.

Left Realists draw on Runciman’s (1966) concept of relative deprivation to explain crime. This refers to how someone feels in relation to others, or compared with their own expectations.

The concept of relative deprivation helps to explain the apparent paradox of increasing crime in the context of an increasing wealthy society. Although people are better off today, they have a greater feeling of relative deprivation because of the media and advertising have raised everyone’s expectations for material possessions – we are wealthier, but we feel poorer, and thus there is more pressure to get more stuff to keep up with everyone else, which generates historically high crime rates.

Subculture

Left Realists see subcultures as a group’s collective response to the situation of relative deprivation, and they draw on Cohen’s theory of status frustration to explain how they emerge. There are many different subcultural adaptations to blocked opportunities, and not all result in crime – but those subcultures which still subscribe to the mainstream values of material wealth but lack legitimate opportunities to achieve those goals.

Marginalisation

This is where people lack the power or resources to fully participate in society. According to Left Realists marginalised groups lack both clear goals and organisations to represent their interests. Groups such as workers have clear goals (such as wanting better pay and conditions) and organisations to represent them (such as trades unions), and as such they have no need to resort to violence to achieve their goals.

By contrast, unemployed youth are marginalised – they have no specific organisation to represent them and no clear sense of goals – which results in feelings of resentment and frustration. Having no access to legitimate political means to pursue their goals, frustration can become expressed through violence.

Evaluations – THINK about…

  1. Supporting Evidence: Crimes this theory can explain – Is there any statistical evidence or case study* evidence which supports this theory?

  2. Criticising evidence: Crimes this theory cannot explain – Is there any statistical evidence or case study evidence which criticises this theory?

  3. Evaluate using other perspectives – What does the theory under investigation ignore?

  4. Historical evaluation – Has society changed so much that the theory is just no longer relevant?

  5. Evaluate in terms of ideology/ power – Is the theory biased, does it serve the powerful

Left Realism – Solutions to Crime

Left realist solutions to crime emphasis Social and Community Crime Prevention strategies which focus on individual offenders and the social context which encourages them to commit crime.

There are two broad approaches – Intervention, identifying groups at risk of committing crime and taking action to limit their offending, and Community based approaches– involving the local community in combating crime.

One of the best-known intervention programmes aimed at reducing criminality is the Perry pre-school project for disadvantaged black children which took place in Michigan, USA. IN this programme a group of 3-4 olds were offered a two-year intellectual enrichment programme, during which time the children received weekly home-visits.

A longitudinal study following the children’s’ progress showed significant differences between the experimental group and a control group. By age 40, they had had significantly fewer arrests for various types of grime, and a higher percentage had graduated high school and made it into full-time employment. It was calculated that for every $1 spent on the programme, $17 were saved on welfare, prison and other costs.

As far as community-based strategies for reducing crime are concerned – Young and Matthews (1992) argue that improving leisure facilities for the young, reducing income inequalities, improving housing estates, raising the living standards of poorer families, reducing unemployment and creating jobs with prospects, will all help to cut crime. Long term problems must be addressed, but more immediate measures can also be taken.

Improving Policing

A third strategy for reducing crime according to left realists is to improve policing. They argue that over 90% of crimes are cleared up by the police as a result of information from the public, however research suggests that public confidence in the police has declined. Left Realists argue that if this relationship breaks down, the flow of information from the victims of crime will dry up. If Police do not have the information they need from the public, they have to find new ways of solving crime, and there is a drift towards military policing (the police having to resort to tactics such as stopping and searching or using surveillance) they then alienate people in the community and make everyone feel like criminals, and as a result trust in the police declines further. Therefore the police must concentrate on improving relationships with the community and the public should have more say in shaping police policy –where the police should listen to the public about what crime affects them most in their area.

Evaluations of Left Realist solutions to crime

  • If done effectively, these are the most costly of all crime prevention measures.

  • HOWEVER, if done properly, community prevention measures can save hundreds of thousands of pounds, by ‘turning’ a potential criminal into an employed tax-payer.

  • Marxists argue that these policies may tackle deprivation but they do not tackle the underlying structural inequalities in the Capitalist system which are the root cause.

  • Such approaches target working class, inner city communities and do not tackle elite crime.

  • Michel Foucault and David Garland interpret the these strategies as being about surveillance and control rather than real social change which prevents crime.

Extension work – Find out more about ‘Multiple Aetiology and The Square of Crime

Left Realists argue that crime is caused by several different factors. They call this multiple aetiology. Crime is a product of formal and informal rules, actions of offenders and of reaction by victims, the state and its agencies, it is therefore important to understand why people offend, what makes victims vulnerable, the factors that affect public attitudes and responses to crime and the social forces that influence the police. This can be done by drawing together a number of different agencies in the community, who should all work together to solve crime.

Related Posts 

For more please see my main page on crime and deviance.